Albertans didn’t need to hold their breath for Ottawa’s approval of the Frontier oil sands mine.
Reports of massive opposition within the Liberal Party caucus and rumours of an appeasing economic aid package for the province were strong indicators that the federal cabinet had no intention of approving the Frontier mine in northern Alberta.
In the end, federal dithering forced Teck Resources to cancel the project.
Frontier represented hope for Alberta. It promised $20 billion in investment, and to generate four decades of operation and $70 billion in taxes for all levels of government. Some 2,500 permanent jobs would have remained from the 7,000 sparked during the construction phase.
Poof – just like that, it’s all gone!
The project had been through all the hoops and complied with all the requirements under law and regulation. It enjoyed the endorsement of all 14 adjacent Indigenous communities.
But the project chafes against those wishing Alberta would leave its oil in the ground and phase out the oil sands, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau desires, and to transform Canada into the world’s eco-nirvana at the expense of Alberta.
There are strong ideological voices inside the Liberal, Bloc and New Democratic parties. These are the same folks to whom Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau regularly tweet to say the Canadian economy is doing wonderfully well.
The real culprit, however, is the Laurentian regime – the structures of power that dominate Canada. Without this arrangement, the imposition of Laurentian dominance over Alberta’s natural resources wouldn’t be possible.
The House of Commons has 338 members, of whom only 34 represent Albertans. Contrast that with 199 MPs from the Laurentian provinces: Quebec and Ontario. Regardless of who may be in power, Laurentians have nearly seven times more voices in Parliament than Albertans do. This won’t change.
Of course, not all Laurentian MPs are doomsday environmentalists, but they don’t have to be. If only a third of them were , it would make them twice as numerous as all Alberta MPs – and this too won’t change.
But it gets worse. The MPs who have stalled long enough to force the fate of Teck’s Frontier project are in the federal cabinet, with no Albertan among them.
Ottawa has tried to extort political gain from Alberta in exchange for approval of projects, while pushing more job-killing policies and punishing the province for “fighting [the] federal government on the issue of the pricing of pollution,” as federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna expressed it.
They know the provincial government won’t surrender, thus setting things up to blame Alberta for the project cancellation, exactly as Morneau now blames Kinder Morgan for “walking away” from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Cabinet had just one job: approve, reject or delay the project. They couldn’t even do that.
Approval wasn’t really an option for this government – it would cost it crucial seats in Laurentian urban centres such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, as well as in Atlantic Canada and B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Approving the project would provide negligible gains in Alberta.
So a new version of screw the west but take the rest will do. The minority government can’t survive without other eco-nirvana coalition parties: the Bloc and the NDP.
Trudeau wants to avoid the collapse of his minority government. And he needs to safeguard, for his party and for himself, the chance of regaining majority power in the next election. So he must avoid the wrath of Laurentian eco-doomster voters.
However, the real and present danger of further fuelling Alberta independence sentiments remains. The effect of Teck cancelling the Frontier mine outright is worse for Western Canada than passing over Winnipeg in favour of Montreal for the CF-18 maintenance contract, a decision that sparked the prairie fire that gave birth to the Reform Movement in the late 1980s.
The cancellation of Frontier due to the federal government’s shenanigans stings the West more than most non-Western Canadians may appreciate.
Most Laurentian MPs, however indifferent or callous to Western concerns they are, would certainly not wish to have the country collapse on their watch. Yet it appears cabinet doesn’t seem to share this concern.
The dragging on and negative signalling from the cabinet seems to have done the trick for Teck as much as it did for Trans Canada and Kinder Morgan.
As consolation, perhaps the feds will offer Alberta economic aid. Unfortunately, Alberta voters aren’t for sale (much less willing to be bought with their own money). They want private sector jobs and autonomy instead of subjection to Laurentian dependency.
No amount of Ottawa spend-and-spin will make Albertans receptive to systematic efforts to deliver deadly blows to the province’s largest employment generator.
Federal government delays made the Teck’s Frontier project disappear and that will only stoke Alberta’s already incandescent fires of separation.